(by The Rev. Dr. Curtis I. Crenshaw, Th.M., Th.D.)
(5 Sep 2014)
(my forthcoming update of my book on dispensationalism will cover these matters in more detail.)
One famous Christian person recently said: “As I read the news, I can’t help but wonder if we’re in last hours.” I have great respect and appreciation for what this man is doing for the gospel and for helping the poor around the world. What is an embarrassment to Christians, however, is the end time date setting we hear so much about in some circles, and nearly always dispensational circles. So far they have been 100% wrong.
The dispensationists were jumping for joy when the state of Israel was established in 1948. They had long said that a generation in the Bible was 40 years; add that to 1948, and we have the Second Coming in 1988. In fact, one man wrote a book titled 88 Reasons for the Rapture in 1988, which, of course, did not happen. Then the date was shifted to 1989. Harold Camping put the date at 2011, and on we go. It is virtually never creedal Christians who engage in such speculation and embarrass everyone but those who think they can interpret the Bible apart from 2,000 years of church history. This new doctrine is only 100 years old, but the old gospel goes back to the Apostles; indeed, to Adam and Eve with Genesis 3:15.
Let me quickly add that it is the popularizers who set dates with their predictions, those who are not well educated theologically, not the dispensational scholars. Some popularizers are Hal Lindsey, Tim LaHaye, John Hagee, etc. The scholars who teach at such places as Dallas Theological Seminary generally do not engage in such speculation. When I was a student there in the early 1970s, Dr. John Walvoord, the president of the seminary, said in chapel that we should not say this was the end and fulfillment of the land promise to the Jews because they may be taken out of the land only to return again at some future point. Unfortunately, he seemed to change his mind later when he wrote the popular book Armageddon: Oil and the Middle East Crisis, 1974.
I want to challenge one point taken for granted by these prophets of doom, which is the definition of Israel. I’ve been challenging their understanding of Israel and of the Church since 1985, but now there are two professors at Dallas Theological Seminary, the Mecca of dispensationalism, who are issuing the challenge. Everyone takes for granted that the “Jews” in the nation called Israel today are the Jews of biblical prophecy, but let us pursue this further.
As one professor at DTS recently stated: “Since Paul asserts that ‘not all Israel is Israel,’ (Rom. 9:6), it behooves us to know what ‘Israel,’ we mean when we ask if there remains a future for Israel.” Romans 9:1-5 indicates that Paul had great concern for his brethren according to the flesh, but then in 9:6 he adds “they are not all Israel who are Israel,” which obviously means that just because one was a Jew according to the flesh did not mean he was really an Israelite by the Spirit. So who is the real Jew? Today in the state of Israel, one can be considered a Jew if he was born of a Jewish mother (but what is a “Jewish” mother) or one who converts to Judaism. Some “Jews” in the state of Israel are atheists; are they true Jews? Moreover, Reform Judaism “views Jews who convert to another religion as non-Jews” such as “anyone who claims Jesus as his savior.” Consider this summary as given by these two professors at Dallas Seminary:
1. Was Abraham a Jew, when he was a Gentile who was called out of the Gentile city Ur?
2. Do we mean the people who were in the land of “Israel” during the time of Paul’s writing prior to being dispersed by the Roman General Titus in A.D. 70 and by Hadrian in A.D. 135?
3. By “Jews” do we mean those ethnically tied to “Israel” during Paul’s time who did not accept Jesus as Messiah?
4. By “Jews” do we mean those ethnically tied to “Israel” during Paul’s time who did accept Jesus as Messiah, and therefore who are “neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28).
5. Do we mean “Jews” tied to ancient “Israel” by lineage dispersed among the nations?
6. If 5 is yes, how would they confirm their lineage to be considered among the remnant (Rom. 9:27)?
7. What about those who cannot be sure of their ethnic ties to “Israel”?
8. What about those of “Israel” who have died before the future restoration of “Israel” by God?
9. Are “Jews” the people in the nation of “Israel” created in 1948 by the UN?
10. Do they need to be orthodox “Jews” living in the state of “Israel” to be considered “Israel”?
11. If the majority of the population in the state of “Israel” today are not orthodox (and they aren’t) according to the Old Testament law, is it still “Israel”?
12. Does “Israel” need to expand its borders to include the entire land grant to Abraham to be considered “Israel”?
13. Is not a true Jew one who is spiritual, not one who is physical, as Paul explicitly states (Rom. 2:26-29; 9:6) and as the Lord Jesus stated (John 8:37-44)?
14. All who have faith in Christ and are baptized in Him are the seed of Abraham (Gal. 3:26-28) and are the true “Israel of God” (Gal. 6:16), the true circumcision is of the heart (Rom. 2:27-29), and baptism takes the place of circumcision (Col. 2:11-12).
15. Is not “Israel” merely the political state in the middle East?
Will the real “Israel” please stand up? Indeed, these popularizers engage in replacement theology, which they accuse us of doing. They replace the “Israel” of Paul’s day with the church, and the church is said to be a parenthesis in God’s program until it is removed, and then the church is replaced with “Israel.”
On the contrary, Christians from the early church until now have seen the church in the New Testament era as the fulfillment of “Israel” of the Old Testament era, like planting a bud that blossoms into a flower. This is continuity, as we see in Romans 11 where there is one—not two—olive trees, and both Jews and Gentiles are in the one covenant tree. So who is “Israel” and who is the true Jew? We don’t have to guess:
26 For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. (Gal. 3:26-29).
28 For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh; 29 but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God (Rom. 2:28-29).
Paul calls the church the “Israel of God” (Gal. 6:16). How can we possibly say that those going to the land of the State of Israel today in the mid-East are God’s chosen people when they sometimes persecute Christians and especially do not believe in Jesus as their Messiah? They will perish in hell when they die. Moreover, many of them are atheists and yet are considered good Jews. Talk about racism! Some dispensational Christians are saying these modern Jews are God’s people simply by physical birth! That was never the case, even under the old covenant, as St. Paul states in Romans 9:1-6, especially in v. 6: “not all Israel is Israel.” (See also 1 Cor. 10:1-13.)
And what is really disheartening is that many ministries are defined by their view of antichrist, not Christ. They have successfully produced a whole generation of Christians who think more about the Man of sin, antichrist than Christ. For example, I heard R. C. Sproul say he could not give away his book on the person of Christ, but books on antichrist are sold by the millions. We would not be so pessimistic about the future if we had a clear view of the majesty of the Son of God. Go to your favorite Christian bookstore and see how books proclaim Christ and how many sensationalize the devil and his alleged power. We must promote Him, not the 666.
It would not hurt my theology if the state of Israel is removed out of the land or stays in it, for they do not constitute any biblical concept of who “Israel” is.